Tuesday 19 August 2014

The Book that Made This Great War

"So this is the little lady who wrote the book which made this great war." (Abraham Lincoln, 1862)

Onkel Toms Hutte.  La Cabana del Tio Tom.  Baracca dello zio Tom.  Onkel Toms Stuga.  Tamas batya kunyhoja.  Uncle Tom's Cabin.  One book -- millions of copies -- over 60 translations.  The second-best selling book of the 19th Century.

How did one book make such an imprint on America's conscience?  Banned in the southern states, one bookseller in Mobile, Alabama was forced to leave town after selling the novel.  Its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, received hate mail, including an envelop with a slave's severed ear, in reaction to her anti-slavery tome. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe "put a face, a mind, a soul" to the American blacks, and in so doing, polarized the North against the South in the slavery debate of the mid-1800's.  Union General James Baird Weaver joined the abolitionist movement after reading the book.  Uncle Tom's Cabin became a topic for conversation in religious sermons in the North.  Evangelists, especially Quakers and Methodists, helped champion the abolitionist cause.

Uncle Tom's Cabin made an impact abroad as well.  Charles Francis Adams, the American Minister to Britain during the Civil War, claimed that the book "exercised...a more immediate considerable and dramatic world influence than any other book every printed."  In fact, when Harriet Beecher Stowe travelled to England in 1853, she was greeted by a group of women with a 26-volume petition signed by 500,000 British women advocating the abolition of slavery in the United States.  

For the next decade, Uncle Tom's Cabin would be translated into dozens of languages and influence readers around the world.  On the night of January 1, 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe attended an abolitionist concert in Boston, Massachusetts.  Several well known authors were in the audience including Emerson, Longfellow and Whittier.  The crowd, three thousand strong, chanted Stowe's name as she waved from the balcony.  As the curtains closed on the orchestra in Boston, President Lincoln, with the stroke of a pen, signed the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington D.C.

Abraham Lincoln & Harriet Beecher Stowe courtesy upfront.scholastic.com.

Note:  For more information about Uncle Tom's Cabin read my post at http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2012/03/uncle-toms-cabin.html.

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